Claes Bang in The Square

INTERVIEW. Claes Bang, who has more than twenty years of experience from theatre, film and television, takes centre stage in Ruben Östlund's satirical drama and Cannes winner "The Square." Östlund really makes you work for your money, says the Danish actor.

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Claes Bang plays a successful curator whose life takes an unexpected turn in Ruben Östlund's "The Square." Photo: Lis Kasper Bang

Danish actor Claes Bang plays the main character in Ruben Östlund's Swedish production "The Square," winner of this year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival.

The process was everything you could wish for as an actor, truly the Rolls Royce treatment. I got so much free rein.

Claes Bang takes centre stage in Östlund's satirical drama as Christian, a successful curator of a modern art museum. A few days before the opening of the prestigious exhibition The Square he is mugged, which he can't shake off. Christian embarks on a hunt for the perpetrator and ends up in situations that turn steadily more amusing. Simultaneously he has to deal with the PR agency helping the museum market the upcoming exhibition. Something which takes an unexpected turn and plunges both the curator and the museum into crisis.

Claes Bang has acted in a number of films and television series in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. He has numerous stage performances under his belt, most significantly the monologue "Ondskaben" after Jan Guillou's novel. He premiered the play in 2002 and has performed it around 300 times since, including an English version entitled "The Evil" at London's St James Theatre in 2015. End of May, right after Cannes, he is performing the show in Edinburgh.

Here, Claes Bang offers some insight into his work on "The Square," which has received co-production funding from the Danish Film Institute.

How did you end up working on "The Square"?

The Danish casting director Tanja Grunwald called me in to audition for the role of Christian. I got the part after a relatively long audition process, with three sessions totalling about seven hours. At the first audition, Ruben Östlund talked me through the whole film, and we did improvisations of five or six scenes. At the next auditions, I made improvisations with actors that were auditioning for the other roles in the film.

What was working with Ruben Östlund like?

The process was everything you could wish for as an actor, truly the Rolls Royce treatment. I got so much free rein. But it was also insanely tough, because Ruben is very demanding and always works with very long takes and shots. Doing up to 50 takes of a shot isn't uncommon. He really makes you work for your money.

Östlund almost never talks about character or psychology, only about the situation. How to behave in and relate to a situation. That's what the many takes are about – homing in on a situation, until it takes over and you stop acting and just are.

Can you name a scene that's indicative of your work on the film?

I often hung out with Ruben after a day's shoot to prepare and improvise the next few days' work. We sat in a lot of different restaurants and bars, acting out scenes in the film.

There was one scene in particular that we would go over again and again, a kind of confession scene towards the end of the film. It was important that my character hit a kind of stream of consciousness in that scene, seamlessly moving from one issue to the next in jarring but still organic shifts. We spent a long time on that both before and during the shoot.


More about The Square

"The Square," winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival 2017, is a Swedish film produced by Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober for Plattform Produktion. Danish co-producer is Coproduction Office by Katja Adomeit, and the film has received funding from the Danish Film Institute.

In addition to Claes Bang, the cast includes Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), Dominic West ("The Wire") and Christopher Læssø ("Darkland").

Article revised 6 June 2017

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Claes Bang

Claes Bang (born 1967) graduated from the Danish National School of Performing Arts in 1996 and has played in a wide range of roles in television, film and theatre.

Films include "Park Road – The Movie," "Take the Trash," "A Soap" and "Nynne." On television, he has appeared in "The Bridge," "Dicte," "Borgen" and "Anna Pihl." 

One of Bang's most significant stage performances is the monologue "Ondskaben" after Jan Guillou's novel, which he premiered in 2002 and has performed around 300 times since. In 2015, he toured an English version of the play entitled "The Evil" to St James Theatre in London. End of May, right after Cannes, Bang is off to perform the show in Edinburgh as part of the festival Imaginate.

In recent years he has been working on international productions, especially in Sweden and Germany. In 2010, Bang released the album "This Is Not America" which he also wrote.

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